21 Grams

on November 21, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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The first English-language film from the talented Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Amores Perros") suffers from the same problems that afflicted his feature debut. Though strongly directed, it's also a confused, confusing and too often glib treatise on matters of life and death. Alluding to the amount of body weight one supposedly loses upon dying, "21 Grams" centers around a horrific accident that brings together an ex-con and born-again Christian (Benicio Del Toro), a mathematics teacher who's dying of heart disease (Sean Penn), and a former party girl turned respectable wife and mother (Naomi Watts). Utilizing a "Memento"-like filmic structure that flips time and scenes like so many juggler's balls, "21 Grams" attempts to provoke deep philosophical musings on mortality, faith and the randomness of events. The audience's deepest concerns, however, are likely to revolve around the question of why Inarritu chose the structure he did. Is he mixing up his scenes in order to replicate the capriciousness of fate? Or is he trying to impose an order on the film's events, which actually contradicts the points he's been making about man not being able to control his destiny? Either way, the movie's helter-skelter, artificial plotting and sometimes inane dialogue only serve to remove viewers from the film and its characters' pain and remorse. The actors, save for an uncomfortable Sean Penn, who inexplicably won the Best Actor award for his role at the Venice Film Festival, gamely go with the flow, with Del Toro--and Melissa Leo as his loyal wife--standing out. Obviously, Inarritu has what it makes to make good movies, but considering that the same screenwriter, Guillermo Arriaga, has penned both his features, a change of scribes might be in order. Starring Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Written by Guillermo Arriaga. Produced by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Robert Salerno. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for language, sexuality, some violence and drug use. Running time: 106 min
Tags: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Written by Guillermo Arriaga. Produced by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Robert Salerno. A Focus release. Drama
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